Niall Lucy is Professor of Critical Theory at Curtin University, Western Australia, and co-editor with Robert Briggs of online journal Ctrl-Z: new media philosophy. His books include A Derrida Dictionary; Beyond Semiotics: Text, Culture and Technology; Pomo Oz: Fear and Loathing Downunder; and Vagabond Holes: David McComb and The Triffids (co-edited with Chris Coughran). His latest book, The Ballad of Moondyne Joe (with John Kinsella), will appear early in 2012.

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@Bartleby, the Scrivener:
A Remix of Wall St (in 99 Tweets)

I am a rather elderly man whose avocations have brought him into more than ordinary contact with law copyists or scriveners.

Of other copyists I might #write the complete life, but of @Bartleby: nothing.

At first, as if long famishing for something to #copy, he seemed to gorge himself on documents in my chambers @No.—WallSt.

Then, I think it was on the third day of his being with me, I called to @Bartleby one afternoon to examine a small paper.

‘I would prefer not to,’ said he.

Why do you refuse?’

‘I would prefer not to.’

‘Come forth and do your duty.’

But he vouchsafed no reply.

Some days passed, as he became a perpetual sentry in the corner.

He must be a vegetarian then.

Nothing so aggravates an earnest person as a passive resistance.

‘When those papers are all #copied, I will compare them with you.’ @Bartleby

‘I would prefer not to.’

‘Just step round to the Post Office, won’t you?’ @Bartleby

‘I would prefer not to.’

‘You will not?’

‘I prefer not.’


No answer.

@Bartleby, in a louder tone.

No answer.

@Bartleby, I roared.

Like a very #ghost, at the third summons he appeared.

‘I prefer not to,’ he respectfully and slowly said, and mildly disappeared.

‘Will you tell me where you were born?’ @Bartleby

‘I would prefer not to.’

‘Will you tell me anything about yourself?’

‘I would prefer not to.’

‘But what reasonable objection can you have to speak to me? I feel friendly towards you.’

He did not look at me while I spoke.

‘What is your answer?’ @Bartleby

‘At present I prefer to give no answer,’ he said.

‘Never mind then about revealing your history; say now that in a day or two you will begin to be a little reasonable:—say so.’ @Bartleby

‘At present I would prefer not to be a little reasonable.’

Next day I noticed @Bartleby did nothing but stand at his window in his dead-wall revery: he had decided upon doing no more #writing.

‘Why, how now? What next?’ exclaimed I. ‘Do no more #writing?’

‘No more.’

‘And what is the reason?’

‘Do you not see the reason for yourself,’ he indifferently replied.

I looked steadfastly at him, and perceived that his eyes looked dull and glazed.

Had his unexampled diligence in #copying by his dim window all this while impaired his vision?

‘What!’ exclaimed I; ‘suppose your eyes should get entirely well—would you not #copy then?’

‘I have given up #copying,’ he answered, and slid aside.

What was to be done? He would do nothing in the office: why should he stay there?

I told @Bartleby that in six days’ time he must unconditionally leave.

‘The time has come; you must quit this place; I am sorry for you; here is money; but you must go.’

‘I would prefer not to,’ he replied, with his back still towards me.

‘You must.’

As I walked home in a pensive mood, I could not but highly plume myself on my masterly management in getting rid of @Bartleby.

Without loudly bidding him depart, I assumed that depart he must; and upon that assumption built all I had to say.

@cnrBway&Canal, I saw quite an excited group of people standing in earnest conversation.

Next morning, doubts: my assumption had been mine alone, and none of @Bartleby’s. He was more a man of preferences than assumptions.

Arriving at the office I fumbled for my keys, when a voice came to me from within: ‘Not yet; I am #occupied.’

Said I @Bartleby, entering my office, ‘Will you, or will you not, quit me?’

‘I would prefer not to quit you,’ he replied, gently emphasizing the not.

‘What earthly right have you to stay here? Do you pay any rent? Do you pay my taxes? Or is this property yours?’

He answered nothing.

I endeavored also immediately to #occupymyself, and at the same time to comfort my despondency.

I tried to fancy that @Bartleby, of his own free accord, would take up some decided line of march in the direction of the door.

But no.

Some days now passed.

What shall I do? What ought I to do? What does conscience say I should do with this man, or rather #ghost.

What! Surely you will not have him collared by a constable, and commit his innocent pallor to the common jail?

And upon what ground could you procure such a thing to be done?

Since he will not quit me, I must quit him.

Next day I thus addressed him: ‘I propose to remove my offices next week, and shall no longer require your services.’

He made no reply, and nothing more was said.

Several days passed.

Coming to my new rooms one morning, I found several persons waiting at my door in a high state of nervous excitement.

‘You must take him away, sir, at once,’ cried a portly person among them, whom I knew to be @thelandlord of @No.—WallSt.

‘He now persists in #haunting the building generally. Everybody is concerned; some fears are entertained of a mob.’

Aghast at this torrent, I fell back before it.

At length I said I would that afternoon strive to rid them of the nuisance they complained of.

Going up the stairs to my old #haunt, there was @Bartleby silently sitting upon the banister at the landing.

‘What are you doing here?’ @Bartleby

‘Sitting upon the banister,’ he mildly replied.

‘Are you aware that you are the cause of great tribulation to me, by persisting in #occupying the entry after being dismissed?’

No answer.

‘Either you must do something, or something must be done to you.’

‘I would prefer not to make any change.’

‘Will you go home with me now—not to my office, but my dwelling—and remain there? Come, let us start now, right away.’

‘No: at present I would prefer not to make any change at all.’

I distinctly perceived that I had now done all that I possibly could, in respect to @thelandlord and to my own desire and sense of duty.

When again I entered my office, lo, a note from @thelandlord: he had sent to the police, and had @Bartleby taken to @theTombs as a vagrant.

As I afterwards learned, the poor scrivener offered not the slightest obstacle, but in his pale unmoving way, silently acquiesced.

On receiving the note I went to @theTombs, or to speak more properly, @theHallsofJustice.


‘I know you,’ he said, without looking round—‘and I want nothing to say to you.’

‘It was not I that brought you here. And see, it is not so sad a place as one might think. Look, there is the sky, and here is the grass.’

‘I know where I am,’ he replied, but would say nothing more, and so I left him.

Some few days after this, I again obtained admission to @theTombs and found the yard was entirely quiet.

Strangely huddled at the base of the wall, I saw the wasted @Bartleby.

@turnkey’s round face peered upon me now. ‘His dinner is ready. Or does he live without dining?’

‘Lives without dining,’ said I, and closed his eyes.

‘Eh!—He’s asleep, ain’t he?’

‘With kings and counselors,’ murmured I.

Ah @Bartleby! Ah @humanity!